The Muskrat in the Rear-View Mirror

Written by Karen Weyant for the collection: 'Life in the time of #COVID'

Photo by Blake Barlow

The muskrat dodges in front of my car, and I manage to pull the front wheels to the left, sharply. I keep driving but glance in my rear-view mirror at the disorientated creature. Its head is down and angled towards the pavement and its round body of fur is wet. Slick strands stick up near the end of its long rat-like tail that in water, serves as a rudder, but on dry land, only drags in the roadside gravel, much more of a hindrance than any kind of help.


This road by this swamp is well traveled, so much so that I have seen many dead birds and deer, apparent victims of collisions with vehicles. That little guy is going to get hit, I think to myself, as I pull my car to the end of the road. I should park and get out. I should try to herd him to his home back in the water.


But there are other voices that reject all of the shoulds in my head. One voice tells me, You are already late for work. Another says, What do you know about saving muskrats, for crying out loud! And the loudest voice delivers a much more cynical message. You grew up in the country. You see roadkill all the time. What is another dead animal?


I pull up to the stop sign at the end of the road. My knuckles turn white as I grip the steering wheel.


I don’t get out to help.


Instead, I pause more than necessary at the stop sign. I should just turn right and be on my way to work.


But I don’t move. Cynicism inside of me drowns out what I should do and one meek voice simply whispers, almost consolingly, You couldn’t help. You know that, right?


The radio blasts noise about an illness, some kind of new virus that is threatening the people in Washington. COVID-19, they are calling it. It seems to be life-threatening to the elderly and those who have significant health challenges.


I have a friend with a compromised immune system who lives in Washington state and is especially vulnerable. I am worried about her.


In the rear-view mirror, I see a white pickup truck. This is it. I think. That truck is going to hit him.


But it doesn’t.


Instead, the truck glides to the side of a road, and parks, blinkers on. An elderly man with a cane climbs out. I watch as he walks towards the confused muskrat and guides the rodent to safety, gently pushing the fury body across the road with his cane and into the water, in this single act of kindness that I myself had failed to do.



Karen J. Weyant's essays have appeared in 'BioStories,' 'Briar Cliff Review,' 'Carbon Culture Review,' 'Coal Hill Review,' 'Crab Creek Review,' 'Lake Effect,' 'Stoneboat,' and 'Waccamaw'. She is an Associate Professor of English at Jamestown Community College in Jamestown, New York.

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